Ah, gin. With its clear, neutral base that can be infused with any number of botanicals and flavours, it’s become the darling of the artisanal drinks scene – both locally and internationally.

In fact, gin’s renaissance has even reached mainstream, making it one of the fastest growing segments in the alcoholic beverage category. With new gins popping up faster than you can say, “Cheers,” you’d be forgiven for thinking you’ve seen and tasted it all. But that’s where you’d be mistaken.

Monkey 47
Monkey 47
Image: Supplied

Meet Monkey 47. In an age where every cult classic has its critic, it’s astounding how effusive and across-the-board the praise for this primate-inspired tipple has been…

From Forbes Magazine: “An extraordinarily sophisticated tour de force,” to esteemed critic Robert M. Parker: “The greatest gin I have ever tasted. If ever a gin deserves 100 points, it’s this.”

Having recently attended the memorable South African launch of this gin, I must humbly join the ranks and agree.

To understand what sets this spirit apart, let’s go back to the beginning…

The story of Monkey 47 starts with an Indian-born Englishman stationed in Germany after World War 2. Inspired by the Black Forest, his British heritage, as well as the flavours of India, he set out to create a complex gin like no other, naming it Max the Monkey (after an actual monkey he befriended at the Berlin Zoo).

Fast forward half a century to 2006, and Alexander Stein, scion of the Jacobi Brandy dynasty, was told of the existence of an extraordinary gin recipe from the Black Forest. Intrigued by the idea of producing a Black Forest gin, based entirely on regional ingredients, the fabled Monkey was slowly brought back to life.

Alexander Stein
Alexander Stein
Image: Supplied

Stein first spent over two years working with coppersmith Arnold Holstein to design and manufacture a one-of-a-kind distilling operation that respected tradition whilst also pushing innovation. The apparatus was then assembled by hand – one artisanal piece at a time. Then, despite the worldwide demand for their gin, Stein again rejected an industrial approach that would have promised greater production capacity, and instead opted to maintain his small 100-litre distilling vessels, allowing room for complexity and more building blocks to create the end result.

Apparatus Alembicus Maximus
Apparatus Alembicus Maximus
Image: Supplied

Made with 47 different botanical components, Stein himself elaborates:

“We set out to create the best gin possible and produce aromas, not alcohol. We are distillers to the core, and, like a parfumier, constantly on the hunt for aromas and fragrances… A third of the ingredients in Monkey 47 come from the Black Forest, based on natural spring water taken from the region and are not what one would assume to be typical for gin: lingonberries, spruce tips, sloes and elderflower blossoms to name a few. This gives the gin its unique aroma and complex flavour profile.”

So what does this mean for South Africa? With so many exciting local producers, the arrival of the world’s most-loved gin can only be a good thing in my opinion – helping to broaden the market as a whole, as well as to enlighten and perhaps even elevate it.

It’s no secret that the ultra premium market is big business here, so expect Monkey 47 to join the ranks of other luxury alcoholic brands that are welcomed with warm open arms and thirsty palates - as eclectic and diverse as the distilled ingredients themselves.  

Wade Bales is the Founder of The Wine Society: 
wadebaleswinesociety.co.za

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